A Reminder: Medical and Philosophical Traditions Consider Women Not Fully Human

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

Image result for ancient greek women
Ivory Sculpture from the MET

 

“Habit Just Like Nature”: Tawdry Tuesday, Confused Biology Edition

There is a lot in this that is interesting, challenging, and infuriating (both syntactically and semantically). Beyond a regressive albeit typically Aristotelian assumption that (1) there is an absolute category of “according to nature” and (2) the category of the natural is good, we find the objectionable and horrific positioning of non-heteronormative men and all women as monstrous. (In more canonical work, Aristotle clearly claims that women are a deformed human, less than male.)  But within all of this, we have a fascinating acknowledgement that human sexuality and desire is shaped by culture and habit.

Aristotle, Problems 4.26

“Why is it that some men enjoy being passive in sex and some also enjoy being active, while others do not? Is this because for each effluent there is a place into which it is received naturally and when effort is applied, it causes the force to swell as it exits and then it expels it? Examples of this include urine in the bladder, food which has been digested in the stomach, tears in the eyes, mucus in the nose, or blood in the veins.

It is the same way when it comes to semen in the testicles and penis. When people do not have the same natural passages, either because those which flow to the penis have been blocked up—as what happens with eunuchs and those like eunuchs or for some other reason—then the secretion flows instead into the anus. For this is the direction it goes. An indication of this is the spasming of that part of the body during sexual intercourse and the simultaneous weakening of the area around the anus. So, if someone is extreme in desire, then the material (semen) comes together there, with the result that, whenever desire develops, the place where desire is located yearns for friction.

Desire can arise from both nourishment and imagination. But whenever it is moved by anything, then the pneuma increases there and the effluent flows to the place where it is most natural. So, when the semen is light or full of pneuma, then upon its release the erections stop, as they often do with young children and old men, when no liquid is expelled or when the moisture has dried up.

But if someone has neither of these experiences, he feels desire until something happens. The more effeminate men are set up by nature in such a way that no semen—or very little—is kept in that place it is designated for by nature but instead into that area we mentioned above. The reason for this is because they are arranged against nature. For, even though they are male they are developed in such away that this part of their bodies is deformed. This deformity makes them either completely ruined or twisted. But it is not complete destruction, because then he would be a woman. For this reason it is necessary that things be distorted and the force of the expulsion of the semen should move through some other place.

This is why they cannot be pleased, like women. For there is little ejaculate and it is not compelled to exit, but instead it cools quickly. The desire to be passive develops in the men whose semen cools in the anus; those whose bodies cool semen in both places, desire to play both roles. Yet, they desire more to play the part based on where a greater preponderance of semen is cooling.

For some people this activity comes from habit. It turns out that people enjoy doing the things they do and ejaculate when they do. Therefore, they long to do the things which makes this happen and practice can become something more like nature. For this reason, whoever has not learned to submit passively to sex before puberty but instead start the practice at the time of puberty, desire the same thing, to be passive in sex. This is because of the memory they keep from the experience and the pleasure that comes with the memory and it is from the habit they develop, as if it were natural. Really, many other things and habit too develop as if they are natural. If one happens to be libidinous and soft, then each of these things happens with greater speed.”

 

Διὰ τί ἔνιοι ἀφροδισιαζόμενοι χαίρουσι, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἅμα δρῶντες, οἱ δ᾿ οὔ; ἢ ὅτι ἔστιν ἑκάστῃ περιττώσει τόπος ǁ εἰς ὃν πέφυκεν ἀποκρίνεσθαι κατὰ φύσιν, καὶ πόνου ἐγγινομένου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐξιὸν ἀνοιδεῖν ποιεῖ, καὶ συνεκκρίνει αὐτήν, οἷον τὸ μὲν οὖρον εἰς κύστιν, ἡ δ᾿ ἐξικμασμένη τροφὴ εἰς κοιλίαν, τὸ δὲ δάκρυον εἰς ὄμματα, μύξαι δ᾿ εἰς μυκτῆρας, | αἷμα δὲ εἰς φλέβας; ὁμοίως δὴ τούτοις καὶ ἡ γονὴ εἰς ὄρχεις καὶ αἰδοῖα. οἷς δὴ οἱ πόροι μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ἢ διὰ τὸ ἀποτυφλωθῆναι τοὺς εἰς τὸ αἰδοῖον, οἷον συμβαίνει τοῖς εὐνούχοις καὶ εὐνουχίαις, ἢ καὶ ἄλλως, εἰς τὴν ἕδραν συρρεῖ ἡ τοιαύτη ἰκμάς· καὶ γὰρ διεξέρχεται ταύτῃ. σημεῖον | δ᾿ ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ ἡ συναγωγὴ τοῦ τοιούτου τόπου καὶ ἡ σύντηξις τῶν περὶ τὴν ἕδραν. ἐὰν οὖν ὑπερβάλλῃ τις τῇ λαγνείᾳ, τούτοις ἐνταῦθα συνέρχεται, ὥστε ὅταν ἡ ἐπιθυμία γένηται, τοῦτ᾿ ἐπιθυμεῖ τῆς τρίψεως εἰς ὃ συλλέγεται. ἡ δ᾿ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ἀπὸ σιτίων καὶ ἀπὸ διανοίας γίνεται. ὅταν | γὰρ κινηθῇ ὑφ᾿ ὁτουοῦν, ἐνταῦθα τὸ πνεῦμα συντρέχει, καὶ τὸ τοιοῦτο περίττωμα συρρεῖ οὗ πέφυκεν. κἂν μὲν λεπτὸν ᾖ ἢ πνευματῶδες, τούτου ἐξελθόντος, ὥσπερ αἱ συντάσεις τοῖς παισὶ καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ ἐνίοτε, οὐθενὸς ὑγροῦ ἐκκριθέντος, παύονται, ὅταν τε κατασβεσθῇ τὸ ὑγρόν.

ἐὰν δὲ μηδέτερον | τούτων πάθῃ, ἐπιθυμεῖ ἕως ἄν τι τούτων συμβῇ. οἱ δὲ φύσει θηλυδρίαι οὕτω συνεστᾶσιν ὥστ᾿ ἐκεῖ μὲν μὴ ἐκκρίνεσθαι ἢ ὀλίγην, οὗπερ τοῖς ἔχουσι κατὰ φύσιν ἐκκρίνεται, εἰς δὲ τὸν τόπον τοῦτον. αἴτιον δὲ ὅτι παρὰ φύσιν συνεστᾶσιν· ἄρσενες γὰρ ὄντες οὕτω διάκεινται ὥστε ἀνάγκη τὸν τόπον | τοῦτον πεπηρῶσθαι αὐτῶν. πήρωσις δὲ ἡ μὲν ὅλως ποιεῖ φθόρον, ἡ δὲ διαστροφήν. ἐκείνη μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἔστιν· γυνὴ γὰρ ἂν ἐγένετο. ἀνάγκη ἄρα παρεστράφθαι καὶ ἄλλοθί που ὁρμᾶν τῆς γονικῆς ἐκκρίσεως. διὸ καὶ ἄπληστοι, ὥσπερ αἱ γυναῖκες· ὀλίγη γὰρ ἡ ἰκμάς, καὶ οὐ βιάζεται ἐξιέναι,  καὶ | καταψύχεται ταχύ. καὶ ὅσοις μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν ἕδραν, οὗτοι πάσχειν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν, ὅσοις δ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἀμφότερα, οὗτοι καὶ δρᾶν καὶ πάσχειν· ἐφ᾿ ὁπότερα δὲ πλεῖον, τούτου μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσιν. ἐνίοις δὲ γίνεται καὶ ἐξ ἔθους τὸ πάθος τοῦτο. ὅσα γὰρ ἂν ποιῶσι, συμβαίνει αὐτοῖς χαίρειν καὶ προΐεσθαι | τὴν γονὴν οὕτως. ἐπιθυμοῦσιν οὖν ποιεῖν οἷς ἂν ταῦτα γίνηται, καὶ μᾶλλον τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ φύσις γίνεται. διὰ τοῦτο ὅσοι ἂν μὴ πρὸ ἥβης ἀλλὰ περὶ ἥβην ἐθισθῶσιν ἀφροδισιάζεσθαι, δισιάζεσθαι, ǁ διὰ τὸ γίνεσθαι αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ χρείᾳ τὴν μνήμην, ἅμα δὲ τῇ μνήμῃ τὴν ἡδονήν, διὰ [δὲ] τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκότες ἐπιθυμοῦσι πάσχειν· τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται. ἐὰν δὲ τύχῃ λάγνος | ὢν καὶ μαλακός, καὶ θᾶττον ἕκαστα τούτων συμβαίνει.

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The assertion late in this segment, that “many things and habit too develop as if they are natural” τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται is the closest thing to the attributed “habit is second nature.” Given the genealogy and the implications of this belief, it is, well, complicated.

A Reminder: Western Medical and Philosophical Traditions Consider Women Not Fully Human

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

Image result for ancient greek women
Ivory Sculpture from the MET

 

Tell Me Aristotle, Why Do We Have Butts?

Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Raphael for sharing this passage on the teleology of the human ass with me. This is mostly for distraction, but it also functions as a timely reminder of some of the absurd conclusions that can arise from teleological thinking.

Aristotle, Parts of Animals 689b

“A human being is has no tail, but does have buttocks although the quadruped does not. A human being also has legs which are fleshy in the thighs and calves, while all the rest of the animals have fleshless legs—and not only those animals which have live births, but as many of the other animals who have legs—and they are covered with sinew, are bony, and full of spines.

There is one explanation, you might say, for these differences and that is that humans are the only animal to stand upright. So, nature removed some of the fleshy parts from above and transferred the weight below in order to make the upper portions of human beings easier to bear. This is why nature made human butts fleshy along with their thighs and their calves. With the same act, it made the nature of the buttocks useful for taking a break.

For it is not a problem for the rest of the quadrupeds and they do not get tired from doing that continually.  This is because they have four supports holding them up, it works the same as if they are lying down.But human beings do not easily remain standing upright: our bodies need rest and need to sit down.

This is why a human being has a fleshy butt and thighs and the same reason why we don’t have tails. All the nutrition which heads that way is spent on butts and thighs. The need and use of a tail, moreover, is negated by having butts and thighs. In quadrupeds and the rest of the animals, the situation is the opposite: because they are like dwarfs, all their weight is centered in their upper parts and it is separated from the lower section. For this reason, they have no butt and have hard legs.

ὁ δ᾿ ἄνθρωπος ἄκερκον μέν ἐστιν, ἰσχία δ᾿ ἔχει, τῶν δὲ τετραπόδων οὐδέν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ τὰ σκέλη ὁ μὲν ἄνθρωπος σαρκώδη καὶ μηροὺς καὶ κνήμας, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα πάντ᾿ ἄσαρκα ἔχει, οὐ μόνον τὰ ζῳοτόκα ἀλλ᾿ ὅλως ὅσα σκέλη ἔχει τῶν ζῴων· νευρώδη γὰρ ἔχει καὶ ὀστώδη καὶ ἀκανθώδη. τούτων δ᾿ αἰτία μία τίς ἐστιν ὡς εἰπεῖν ἁπάντων, διότι μόνον ἐστὶν ὀρθὸν τῶν ζῴων ἄνθρωπος. ἵν᾿ οὖν φέρῃ ῥᾳδίως τἄνω κοῦφα ὄντα, ἀφελοῦσα τὸ σωματῶδες ἀπὸ τῶν ἄνω πρὸς τὰ κάτω τὸ βάρος ἡ φύσις προσέθηκεν· διόπερ τὰ ἰσχία σαρκώδη ἐποίησε καὶ μηροὺς καὶ γαστροκνημίας. ἅμα δὲ τήν τε τῶν ἰσχίων φύσιν καὶ πρὸς τὰς ἀναπαύσεις ἀπέδωκε χρήσιμον· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ τετράποσιν ἄκοπον τὸ ἑστάναι, καὶ οὐ κάμνουσι τοῦτο ποιοῦντα συνεχῶς (ὥσπερ γὰρ κατακείμενα διατελεῖ ὑποκειμένων τεττάρων ἐρεισμάτων), τοῖς δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις οὐ ῥᾴδιον ὀρθῶς ἑστῶσι διαμένειν, ἀλλὰ δεῖται τὸ σῶμα ἀναπαύσεως καὶ καθέδρας. ὁ μὲν οὖν ἄνθρωπος ἰσχία τ᾿ ἔχει καὶ τὰ σκέλη σαρκώδη διὰ τὴν εἰρημένην αἰτίαν, καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἄκερκον (ἥ τε γὰρ ἐκεῖσε τροφὴ πορευομένη εἰς ταῦτα ἀναλίσκεται, καὶ διὰ τὸ ἔχειν ἰσχία ἀφῄρηται ἡ τῆς οὐρᾶς ἀναγκαία χρῆσις), τὰ δὲ τετράποδα καὶ τἆλλα ζῷα ἐξ ἐναντίας· νανώδεσι γὰρ οὖσι πρὸς τὸ ἄνω τὸ βάρος καὶ τὸ σωματῶδες ἐπίκειται πᾶν, ἀφῃρημένον ἀπὸ τῶν κάτωθεν· διόπερ ἀνίσχια καὶ σκληρὰ τὰ σκέλη ἔχουσιν.

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Motya Charioteer

 

Male, Female and Monstrosity in Aristotle

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

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